It’s seems like it’s finally hotting up, not just the weather but hopefully the playing on the pitch as well. Whilst I’m sure I said it was getting serious a few weeks ago when the play offs started there’s a real sense, after the slow start to the knock outs, that this is the weekend everything gets going.
All the talk has been of a disappointing set of play offs so far and as ever calls for change are echoing around wherever there is a Rugby League fan to be found. As well as the play offs another bone of contention is the club call, a gimmicky pointless exercise that achieves little except another Wigan Saints derby, the sixth this season. That really is daft, the sixth fixture between the two teams this season!
Some people have gone so far as to suggest dropping the play offs all together. This won’t happen of course, there is too much interest from Sky and the RFL for the Grand Final, but I was certainly interested to hear that suggestion and I don’t think it would be that disastrous if they were to go. However if the play offs were dropped I would want it to be at a cost of expansion of the league, essentially the season would be a little shorter and there would be more than enough space in the calendar to bring in another team. But as I said that isn’t going to happen, I would like to see a change to the play offs though, keep 8 teams by all means but make it a straight knock out – higher league position gets a home advantage and nothing else, none of this second chance and club call nonsense.
I’m proud of many of the aspects of Rugby League and the approach that is taken to the management of the game, we aren’t scared to try things and are happy to embrace new ideas and concepts – video technology for example. In fact this willingness to change is what has led us to many of the facets that make our game what it is today, the play the ball for example. Being a sport that isn’t held back by it’s heritage and history can be a good thing, but I often feel we are tinkering for tinkering’s sake and it does the game no good. There is a real feeling that we try things just for the possibility of it bringing a bit of publicity. The club call is a prime example, it feels pointless and gimmick and done simple for the attention it attracts.
We’re also running competitions with different points structures, there is a bonus point system in the Championships and I’ve no idea why. Our friends in Union introduced it in an attempt to get people scoring more tries and we’ve introduced it why? So teams are encouraged to try and lose by less of a points gap – was that a problem in the first place?
It makes things more complex than they need to be and I think the RFL need to take a step back and stop fiddling and innovating and simplify everything. I’m all for innovation but it needs to be sensible and well grounded only making changes that are needed.
At the end of the day more complicated doesn’t mean better – after all Rugby Union is more complicated…..
Back on the field and watching the Super League show last weekend – I actually thought the format was reasonable for a change, an afternoon show and then a follow up in the evening with the second game and the club call. I was put in the mind of the basics that anyone who has played rugby league will know “defence wins games” for example, along with “don’t let it bounce”. I was amazed to see some shocking play under the high ball, if I were a kicker I’d be putting bombs up left right and centre. If coaches are wheeling this advice out at under 8’s then professional players should be doing it in a game at professional level, I can’t imagine for a minute it’s easy under pressure in a play off game to collect a high ball but I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have to see expected better (especially since some errors were made under no opposition pressure)
Leigh’s impending problems
The big news of yesterday was the revelation of just how much Leigh are struggling financially. Not a massive surprise after the problems that happened mid season but the revelation that not getting to the Grand Final had left Leigh in really big trouble was. I know Leigh had to go through a big change in the middle of a season but making financial plans on the basis of getting to a certain stage or winning a certain game is a folly that has been done by to many other teams to be considered anything other than stupid. It’s either hopeless optimism or an arrogance that they’ll win a certain game.
However it does appear whilst this has been a major set back for Leigh they are working hard to make sure it doesn’t mean bankruptcy. I really hope it doesn’t and it has brought out a lot of anti RFL sentiment and as ever the blame has been laid by many people at the door of expansion teams – Crusaders, London and Catalan. I said previously that people too easily jump on the anti-expansion band wagon and blame un related problems on it and this is one case. I think there’s a lot more to look at before you get down to expansion clubs being the source of Leigh’s worries.
I hope the club do sort this out for the sake of everyone over at Leigh and we could really do without another club going under but the RFL really need to address this as their plans and promises of stability really aren’t bearing any fruit anywhere, Super League or outside.
As usual there is a huge amount of off the field complaints and distractions but there is a big hope that this weekend can provide some action on the pitch to finally make us forget about it. I did of course make another 100% prediction weekend last week, but then there were only two games.
Warrington v Leeds – So they picked Leeds, surprise surprise. Had Wigan played badly and struggled against Catalan then I think there would have been serious consideration given to picking them. As it was though even Leeds’ current run of form wasn’t enough to put Warrington off making the call. As Tony Smith has pointed out the call gives Leeds an added incentive to beat the Wolves and many people are talking of an upset. Personally though I’m going to stick with Warrington to make it through to the final.
Saints v Wigan – Wigan will be buoyed by a rout of Catalans last week and it will have given them some much needed confidence after a struggling few rounds. Coach Michael Maguire is also talking up the virtues of playing all the way through and not having a week to sit around and do nothing. I can see where Maguire is coming from, if you make it through the round with no major injuries being a little bit more match ready could well be an advantage.
Saints though will be up for this and ready to dispatch Wigan in exactly the same way as they did already in the playoffs (playing twice in the same set of playoffs, highlighting the stupidity of the system even more). They have the beating of Wigan and they know that but can they do it twice in as many weeks?
I’m tempted to sit on the fence and shy away from calling it here it’s that tough, but I’ve been eyeing a Wigan Warrington grand final for a while and for that reason and that reason only I’m going to say Wigan.
NRL Grand Final
So that’s the action in this hemisphere but down under the NRL grand final takes place on Sunday morning and if you’ve not watched any NRL all year at least watch this – it’s on SKY Sports on Sunday morning, coverage starts from 7am. It sees Manly take on the New Zealand Warriors, as I lived in New Zealand I’m a bit of a Warriors fan and will be cheering them on but it’s sure to be a tough game and well worth watching.
Also be sure to check out Tony’s post on the Super League play offs – Can we improve the Super League play offs?.